Friday, February 19, 2016

Bison on an island? Yes, because Hollywood put them on Catalina

This buffalo is probably happy to be on Santa Catalina, not freezing his hide off in Yellowstone Park this winter.



 With the stunning Pacific Ocean as their backdrop, these
bison roam, forage and take to the four-wheel roadways.


YEARS AGO, a Hollywood studio brought bison to Santa Catalina Island for a movie shoot.
The film was an obscure western penned by Zane Grey, the colorful writer who lived on Catalina for years.  It apparently didn't impress critics or the public, for it's tough to find much info about it.
And the bisons' role in the 1925 silent film? Well, their "ready for my close-up moment" didn't make it to the Oscars.  In fact, the bison scenes languished on the cutting room floor.
And afterwards, 14 critters were left on the island, probably because they seemed content, and likely because it would have been costly to return them to the mainland, where they'd probably have a rougher life!
Scrubby bush and prickly pear cactus are the habitat of the Catalina bison.
So they did what bison do:  they ate, slept, wandered and reproduced!
TODAY, THE bison are thriving -- so much so that their numbers are kept in check by careful monitoring and birth control for fertile females.
The bison are, indeed, part of the lure and lore of modern day Catalina.....
They are, obviously, not native. But their charisma and ability to adapt have made them an item on the Catalina Island "visitor/must see" list for the better part of a century.
The Zane Grey western, "The Vanishing American," has not a single bison in it and, according to researchers, the film terrain does not
This bison is sorry he isn't in Catalina. He's in Yellowstone.
even remotely resemble Catalina.
WHAT IS KNOWN is that  the bison herd grew over the decades, to upwards of 600. The bison now number about 150, in a program monitored by the Catalina Island Conservancy. And because the bison have become "stars" in Catalina's culture, the Conservancy has no plans to remove them from the island.

The bison were to be part of
a long ago Zane Grey movie.

Movie critics collaborated on novel

Our guide, with native American ancestry, reminded us that bison are revered by the Indian people. (He talked to the beasts, thanking them for allowing us into their home.  He even called a couple of the larger ones by name.) The Conservancy has developed a bison-care partnership with the Morongo Band of Mission Indians, the Tongva. 7,000 years ago, they were Catalina's original inhabitants.
Some of the bison have been located to the colder climes of South Dakota. They're living out their lives on the Great Plains, on the Lakota's Rosebud Reservation -- where temperatures are at least 50 degrees average colder this time of year.

As one comes down from the buffalo area, one sees the
Pacific and a beautiful vista of Catalina's Avalon harbor.
OUR KPBS station featured another solution for controlling the herd's growth.  In 2009, a Conservancy study determined that a herd of between 150 and 200 would be good for both the bison and the island. So the herd was given animal birth control to maintain the population at that ideal number -- around 150 animals.
The goal of the birth control -- inoculation to females over two years -- is to maintain herd size. Normally, it would increase by 15% or more each calving season, so birth control keeps numbers manageable and bison healthier.  That makes for less environmental damage to the land. And because the vaccine is non-hormonal, it does not harm the critters or change their social structures, according to the conservancy's education office. It is also reversible after about a year, should research determine that the island can sustain greater numbers.
For now, they're at home on the Catalina range.

Catalina Island's Airport in the Sky is worth the drive when
you're looking for bison. Also take in the Wrigley Gardens.
Coming up:  We bid adieu to Santa Catalina  Island with a look at other treasures you might miss on a quick visit.  The Catalina Airport -- also known as The Airport in the Sky -- is a charming place where you can watch small craft taxi in and out on the top-of-the-world runway, find good Mexican cooking in the cafe, and stroll through a nicely marked garden.  Also, the Wrigley Botanical Gardens and Memorial to the generous philanthropist and bubble gum magnate is worth a few hours. It is home to 37 well maintained acres of native and specialty plants, plus a memorial with sweeping ocean views. Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us Friday late afternoon when we post for the weekend at:


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